1 Kings 17: 1-17
Have you ever been in an unfamiliar room that suddenly goes dark and you find yourself using something other than your vision to find your way out of the darkness, back into the light? This is a working analogy for walking by faith and not by sight; for “faith is seeing with your heart when all your eyes see is darkness.”
So, what does it ACTUALLY mean to be a woman of faith? How do we walk by faith and not by sight? While we so often speak about being faithful to God and following God’s plan for our lives; living in the reality of authentic faith is much more challenging than we often will admit. In other words, “talk is cheap,” especially empty god-talk and the “church rhetoric” we use to demonstrate how faithful and godly we are. But, when the rubber meets the road, when our faith is put to the test, when we are truly called to walk by faith and not by sight; this is when we demonstrate to God, others, and ourselves whether our faith is paper thin, or whether we are truly grounded in the faith we profess.
In this study, we encounter a woman – a widow and her son, who are experiencing life’s extreme difficulties. Truthfully, very few of us can relate to her situation – the experience of dying slowly from hunger. Yet, for many ancient people of biblical times, and yes, tragically, in many parts of the world (including America), starvation is a harsh and present reality.
Unlike Queen Esther, who was given a great assignment to save her people, this widow did not have such a lofty position or destiny. The faith of this widow was tested through everyday living. Even so, we find that this widow’s faith is recorded in Holy Scripture. She represents the “ordinary” faith experiences of women who will never make the pages of history, never remembered for great deeds recorded in the annuals of time; yet, the widow of Zarapheth proved to be faithful to the movement of God in her life, without hesitation. As with so many women’s narratives in the Bible, she teaches us, through example, what it means to live an authentic life of faith.
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1 Kings 17: 1-16 (NRSV)
Now Elijah the Tishbite, of Tishbe in Gilead said to Ahab, “As the Lord the God of Israel lives, before whom I stand, there shall be neither dew nor rain these years, except by my word.” The word of the Lord came to him saying, “Go from here and hide yourself by the Wadi Cherith, which is east of the Jordan. You shall drink from the wadi, and I have commanded the ravens to feed you there.” So he went and did according to the word of the Lord; he went and lived by the Wadi Cherith, which is east of the Jordan. The ravens brought him bread and meat in the morning, and bread and meat in the evening; and he drank from the wadi. But after a while the wadi dried up because there was no rain.
Then the word of the Lord came to him saying, “Go now to Zarephath which belongs to Sidon, and live there; for I have commanded a widow there to feed you.” When he came to the gate of the town, a widow was there gathering sticks; he called to her and said, “Bring me a little water in a vessel, so that I may have a drink.” As she going to bring it, he called to her and said, “Bring me a morsel of bread in your hand.” But she said, “As the Lord your God lives, I have nothing baked, only a handful of meal in a jar, and a little oil in a jug; I am now gathering a couple of sticks, so that I may go home and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it and die.” Elijah said to her, “Do not be afraid; go and do as you have said; but first make me a little cake of it and bring it to me, and afterwards make something for yourself and your son. For thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: The jar of meal will not be emptied and the jug of oil will not fail until the day that The Lord sends rain on the earth.” She went and did as Elijah said, so that she as well as he and her household ate for many days. The jar of meal was not emptied, neither did the jug of oil fail, according to the word of The Lord that he spoke by Elijah.
Elijah, the prophet is one of the Old Testament’s greatest figures, and arguably one of Israel’s most important prophets. Elijah stood boldly before King Ahab and his wife, Queen Jezebel, and declared that the God (Yahweh) of Israel was the only God of heaven and earth. Confident of God’s authority and power, Elijah challenged the worship of Baal and Asherah (the pagan gods) in front of Queen Jezebel and her false prophets. God showed His holiness and awesomeness on Mount Carmel, and King Ahab and Queen Jezebel were humiliated when God completely destroyed the altar of Baal with fire, even though the false prophets soaked the altar with water. This was one of only a few assignments which Elijah accomplished for the Lord. (see 1 Kings, chapter 18).
Yet, like so many of us, who are chosen for divine assignment, Elijah’s life had its extreme ups and downs. When we encounter the story found in 1 Kings, chapter 17, Elijah is on the run, fearing for his life. Elijah prophesied that “there will be neither dew or rain these years except if the Lord says so.” (1 Kings: 17, 1-3), and God’s word came forth as true. Elijah was then a prophet with a price on his head, so God sent him out of the land of Samaria, to a land called Sidon. He tells Elijah, “I have commanded a widow there to feed you.” So, in faith, not knowing the land nor the widow he would encounter, Elijah sets off for Sidon.
As with many of the stories of women in scripture, this widow has no name and few details are offered about her life. We do know that as a widow, she was at the very bottom of ancient society. Without a husband, father, brother, or male relative to rely on, widows were reduced to poverty and forced to become beggars and scavengers (think of Ruth and Naomi). We also discover in her story, she is not an Israelite.
The text sets up a parallel between the ravens, an unclean scavenger bird, and the widow, a scavenging non Israelite woman who God selects to feed Elijah and save his life. God’s redemptive assistance moves through two instruments which the Israelites would have considered as unclean and unacceptable. This narrative teaches us that when we enter into a state of physical and/or spiritual famine, we must believe that God will “feed us” despite what the circumstances may appear to be. God is our Provider – Yahweh Yireh.
The second point of the text is that divine intervention and divine provision come from unexpected places, unexpected people, and in unexpected ways. Provision, sent by God, to the widow and to Elijah is rooted in hospitality to the “other.” Here we find reciprocal hospitality: a Phoenician widow (a non-Israelite) feeding a Jewish prophet who will eventually save her son. Their mutual love of hospitality is not rooted in their religious or ethnic understanding, instead it is rooted in their shared humanity and love of God.
When Elijah encounters the widow of Zarapheth, she is scavenging for sticks with her young son, expecting their imminent demise. Elijah knew who she was, (God identifies her for Elijah), but the widow has never met Elijah before. Ironically, Elijah’s first encounter with the widow is to asked her to fetch him a drink of water and “a morsel of food.”
“Who is this man?” (she must of thought to herself). “He has the audacity to ask me for food, when my son and I are down to our last crumbs of bread and a scant of oil.”
“Say What?” Can you imagine a strange man instructing you to feed him first, with the very last pieces of the food you have reserved for you and your child?
Surprisingly, we watch this widow share her last meal (or so she thinks) with the prophet Elijah, without hesitation. This woman was not an Israelite, yet we see her digging deep within herself, showing us that spirituality and religiosity are two different things. This woman acts with compassion and hospitality, despite being a “foreigner.” The Lord used her and sent the prophet to her because she possessed the right character which God require in order to save her, Elijah, and her son.
God knew the condition of her heart and prepared the widow to be an instrument of faith, obedience, and hospitality for the prophet Elijah. Displaying a kind and compassionate demeanor, she trusts in the words of the prophet Elijah, believing the jar of meal and the jug of oil will not fail her, or her son. This widow teaches us that a miracle often demands our participation through active and obedient faith.
This widow embodies the later articulations of Apostle Paul: “We walk by faith and not by sight.” (2 Corinthians 5:7). Her present circumstance informs her that there is no hope – she and her son will die of starvation. Yet, she grabs ahold of the promises of God, believing that God will provide for her, Elijah, and her son, without “seeing” the evidence of the promise. She acts with the eyes of faith.
But, one of the important questions of the text is why? Why does she give her last to a strange, foreign man, without proof that what he says will be manifested.
Then Elijah, the man of God tells her, “Do not be afraid.” This may be the catalyst for the widow to move through her fear and activate her faith.
Again ,she lives the articulations of the New Testament – “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1) This widow, despite the reality of her scarce existence, does not give up Hope. When hope is presented to her, she grabs ahold of it and does not let go. In fact, we could say because of her hope and faith, she lives to see a new day, and is restored by the hope which God sends to her through the prophet. Her story teaches us that hope is a necessary element of faith. In fact, faith and hope are inextricably tied to one another. The cord to which hope and faith are tied is love -love for God and love for neighbor, and love for self.
The widow’s story is both compelling and inspirational for many reasons. Some of the most important are these: When faith replaces fear, new life for the widow and her son are realized. Two, by showing compassionate hospitality to a stranger, the widow finds hope. Three, purpose and meaning in life are expanded as God connects God’s children together.
Elijah’s life is saved and so is the widow and her son. This widow now believes in something greater than herself: God, Who is her Provider (Yahweh Yireh) and Who has been her Provider all along. For the widow and Elijah, faith and godly action are catalysts for a brand new future!
Questions for our study and consideration:
In our new and present reality, what are some of the metaphors and analogies we can find in this story to assist us with the need to build up our own faith and hope?
What is the difference between belief and faith? Are the two connected?
How does this story (or does this story) assist us in considering women who we see as “foreigners,” i.e., those who do not have the same belief system as we?
Have there been times in your life when God has placed someone in need in front of you to minister to them? Thinking of yourself as Elijah, what did you gain through the relationship?
Things to live by:
Instead of “I’ll see it then I’ll believe it, try this: Believe it before you see it!
God is kinder than you (we) think. – Saint Theresa
Where hope grows, miracles blossom – Elna Rae
No matter how steep the mountain, the Lord is going to climb it with you. – Helen Steiner Rice
Cast all your cares upon the Lord for He cares for you. (1 Peter 5:7)
“Fear is toxic; but, we who are sober must help the nation who is drunk with the wine of the world.” Rev. Dr. William Barber
Our Sending Prayer
God of Abraham, Isaac, & Jacob – God of Sarah, Rebekah, & Rachel
God of our forefathers, God of our foremothers
God of the African Diaspora, God of all history
We come to you trusting in Your provision and Your presence.
Help us to fear not, but through the eyes of faith, know that this world
belongs to You.
Build up our faith so that we may believe in miracles. In Jesus’ name, we pray, Amen!!!
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